Suddenly, the stairway turned around and was heading down. There were handrails on both sides but the steps were uneven and often slanted "Hold on carefully," I said. "It gets darker as we go along, pitch black at the bottom. So just take it slow, sure of your footing."
"Glad I brought you along," she said, clutching the handrails.
This was a creepy place, even though I knew it all ... including the "special features." I had had a female group member present serving as my Inquisitor. I would play that role for Clair, although I was afraid how she'd take it all.
"What's this?" Clair asked, looking at the combination dungeon and mortuary setting.
"Trust me," I said, as a pair of chained irons came down from the ceiling.
She looked at the wrist irons. "I suppose I'm supposed to put these on," she said, afraid and defiant. "Strip down too, I suppose."
A screen appeared facing away from her, Large LCD letters appeared, the questions I was to ask her.
As she got into the cuffs, the chains adjusted themselves lifting her to her tip toes.
"Your inquisitor," I said, reading the first question, based on the questionnaire we'd both filled out. "Are you leading him on?"
No," she said, changing it to "Yes," and then, "I don't know." The display was blank for a few seconds, and then...
"What's the biggest lie you've told him?"
"I've been totally honest with him."
"Interrogator," I said aloud, reading what the display flashed, "please administer one lash to the witness' buttocks."
I looked over at Clair. "It's okay," she said.
It was not a hard crack and the pain had to be minimal.
"What is the biggest lie," the Interrogator repeated. After a long moment of silence, "Please administer another lash ... put a little muscle into it."
I brought the thin lash across her back, this time with a loud crack and sigh of pain.
"What was the biggest," the Interrogator began again.
"Okay!" she said, annoyance in her voice. "Right now, I'm as scared as fuck. But guess what? I'm enjoying it. I always tried to sound ashamed."
"Why?" I asked.
"Fear," she replied. "If you knew how much I enjoyed almost getting arrested, I'd scare you off. If you knew my grandfather died when I was 21, leaving me five million dollars you'd never be able to view me as an equal. If you knew that when I was sixteen I ran away from home, hitch hiking all the way to Vancouver, paying for the rides with sex -- three guys and one woman, you'd fear that side of me was an unquenchable thirst. I know, I told you I want to settle down, but could you ever be sure?"
"Things take time," I said, beginning to wonder if the differences in our personalities made her so cautious about me.
"This is taking forever," she said, nodding her head.
"Clair Forsche," a low, harsh voice -- the very digitally altered voice of Hannah Hill began, "you have been found guilty."
Whatever mechanism that was controlling the chains pivoted her over to the right. It raised her up about four feet off the floor and then set her down in an upholstered pine coffin. Her shackles opened as she looked around.
"It's okay," I said, stroking her head. "This is being monitored -- inside microphone, pulse rate, breathing. If you start freaking out, it will be paused."
"So this is my funeral?"
"A regular feature of most Initiation rites. "You'll only be buried a short while -- it will seem longer, though."
"Well then, let's get this shit over with," she said, closing herself in the coffin.
A conveyer belt moved the coffin into a small side chamber and closed. "Breathing and heart rate," the display read, "normal." Then, after about ten minutes everything slowed down; apparently she fell asleep.
The third floor was a greenhouse, the size of a small, single-story suburban residence. I made it up the steps, saw the platform at the top of the elevator shaft was still empty. I was just able to catch my breath when the door over the shaft opened and the coffin re-emerged.
Clair pushed open the coffin and was bathed in brilliant sunshine. She was speechless for a long moment looking around. "So this is heaven." she said, obviously pleased at her resurrection.
I helped her out of the coffin and handed her a white terrycloth robe. The two of us walked over to a coffee table where coffee and donuts awaited us. "I'm sorry," she said, "being so blatantly open on the one hand, and so guarded on the other."
"You also seemed to be trying to shock me. Hoping to end my interest?"
She laughed. "How was I to know all that would only make you horny?
After changing into normal clothes, we started on our way home. "How does it feel to have sold your soul to Satan?" I asked, smiling.
"I've hung on to my receipt," she replied. "Wait a few days and see if he doesn't have buyer's remorse."
"Feel any different?
She leaned back in her seat. "It asked a lot of questions about me," she said, stretching out her arms. "Raised even more. What is it that drives me? Why would a photo album of my strongest memories be not safe for work?"
"And your favorites?"
She pulled out her cell phone and pressed a few of the onscreen buttons. "Here," she said, pointing the phone toward me. The picture showed Clair nude, gagged, handcuffed, and laying in a fetal position inside the trunk of a car. "They were looking around for three hours for a place for the sex scene. Have you been naked, riding in the trunk of a car for three hours?" She started laughing, "I suppose not," she said, still laughing.
"What was it?" I asked. "fear or hope of getting caught?
"Testing my limits," she replied. "See where I would not go. But like I said, it was all a performance -- no matter where I was or how many people were watching I could always play the diva and just storm off, knowing there were warm clothes and coffee back in the RV serving as my dressing room."
"You seem to trust people,"
"Oh, I know there are a few crazies out there, and guys who can't take 'no' for an answer, or feel women are property, But most people are good -- I know that."
"I have made mistakes," I admitted. "Pushed things a little too far. I once had a female friend I knew had a drinking problem. She came to my door, drunk, demanding a beer. When she wanted another, I told her I would only give it to her if she took off her top."
"Go any further?" she asked.
"No," I said, "I felt a bit ashamed afterwards."
"That's where you're different. Some guys think something makes them entitled to sex -- whenever, whomever."
I reached over and patted her thigh. She smiled and giggled.
"Remember that first night in Niagara Falls? I already gave you a test and you passed with flying colors."
"I kinda miss that," I said, looking over to her.
"It is getting dark," she said, removing her top and sliding out of her jeans. "And I'm not even asking for a beer."
I looked at her, confidently naked, calmly vulnerable, and happy knowing she was completely safe with me.